Sun In Signs
Sun is always the same in every sign. Only our awareness of it changes. In and of itself Sun opens the door to a timeless spiritual dimension. It radiates a single fiery life force in all directions. We experience this from a distance, on our moving Earth, in time and space.
We live on one plane of Sun's emanation, on one of its concentric orbits. As we travel around it we experience Sun from different perspectives. Each rotation of Earth (day) looks at Sun from a slightly different angle, against a changing background of stars.
Sun burns as the central core of our existence, the reality and purpose behind our being. This is too vast for us to encompass in its entirety. Instead we perceive it diminished by distance from our vantage point on the peripheral ring of Earth's orbit. Earth's position along its orbit at any given time exposes a particular segment of that Reality. This position is charted by Sun's apparent motion across a background of (relatively) fixed stars as Earth revolves around it. Sun does not really move (in this sense) - rather Earth's angle of vision moves, measured by reference to stellar patterns called constellations.
Constellations are human images projected into the sky. They map the heavens by organizing its thousands of twinkling dots into shapes. These stellar pictures connect stars many light years apart, traveling independently of each other. Constellations are like words: inherently meaningless associations of stars (sounds) through which we define movements (concepts) that are meaningful.
Altogether there are 88 constellations in both the northern and southern hemisphere skies. The twelve constellations along Sun's 'path,' as we orbit around it, are called signs. Signs have no objective existence. They portray celestial symbols that describe the terrestrial energies we experience as Sun circles through them from our perspective on Earth. This annual cycle of signs is called the zodiac.
As Earth circles Sun our Moon circles Earth, twelve times a year. Moon bundles Earth's daily rotations into its twelve monthly cycles. We experience these cycles as a repeating series of lunar phases (new, waxing, full, waning). These lunar phases absorb and emit solar energy in a regular pattern. This pattern generates an energy field around Earth's outer perimeter, defined by Moon's orbital path. It creates a template for the waxing and waning of biological life, psychological moods and mental processes.
Earth's annual circumnavigation of Sun narrows down to a dozen Moon units. We call them signs. A sign describes an arc of its orbit that Earth travels during the time period defined by a lunar cycle, new Moon to new Moon. It lasts the length of Moon's own year orbiting Earth. Plus one extra day that symbolically represents a degree of free will.1 A sign is a Moon year with an extra spin of possibility.2
Temporal signs do not coincide with real and visible lunar cycles. A sign refers to an Earth/Sun relationship. It measures a section of Earth's movement around Sun within the time frame of a lunar cycle. This describes a certain terrestrial perspective on Sun's spiritual energy, an abstract state of consciousness. A lunar cycle embodies an actual physical process that occurs within the circle of signs. Because it lasts only 29½ days from new Moon to new Moon the beginning of each lunar cycle continually slips backwards through the 30° long signs.
Lunar phases ground the signs' spiritual meaning into living psychological experience. A sign is like the idea of a dollar: a unit of social trust backed by faith in a government. A lunar phase shows what the dollar can buy. John may buy apples, Mary oranges. They each acquire a tangible thing through participation in an intangible energy field: a functioning market in an organized society.
The signs are measured against a setting of fixed stars. These stars are organized into constellations, standardized figures like the numbers on a clock. Numerical symbols, such as 1, 2, 3, 4 are linguistic conventions allowing us to communicate ideas of quantity. The numbers behind the symbols have inherent qualities. Unity is a fundamental principle. So is duality. Three indicates movement, process, action: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Four demonstrates manifestation, wholeness, completion: four directions in space, four seasons in time, four fundamental forces of physics,3 four nucleotides generating the DNA code that defines every biological life.4
Fourfold human wholeness manifests through three states of being: personal psychology, social role, spiritual quality. Three phases of time: past, present, future. Three stages of life: youth, maturity, age/death. Three planes of activity: physical, emotional, mental.
The twelve lunar cycles of the year parallel this twelve-fold articulation of the human condition. The constellational signs that represent them are symbols: catalysts that evoke insight, stimuli that elicit meaning. There are no giant lions or fish in the sky. These are archetypal projections; ideograms of psychological states. They sequentially unfold in human development just as lunar cycles temporally unroll the seasons.
That sequence begins when Earth stands perpendicular to its orbital plane and its northern, land dominated hemisphere starts to lean towards Sun.5 This happens because Earth spins at a 23½° angle to the vertical. (See 'Sun and Earth,' Figure 1.) Thus Earth's northern hemisphere tilts towards and away from Sun as Earth circles it. That creates the visual impression of Sun moving up to 23½° north and south of the celestial equator. (Earth's equator projected out into space.)
When Sun appears to cross the celestial equator while moving north day and night are exactly equal, with day increasing and night decreasing. This marks the vernal equinox initiating Aries, the first sign. From our vantage point on Earth Aries defines that section of the sky through which Sun appears to move as and just after Earth experiences its vernal equinox.
The temporal length of a lunation cycle, plus a small increment symbolizing creative freedom, defines the spatial length of this sector and all subsequent ones. A sign refers to a geometrical arc measured from the vernal equinox. It describes an Earth/Sun relationship plotted against a stellar reference background. We experience it as an ever-changing ratio of day and night throughout the year.
On the first day of spring Earth's north pole stands perpendicular to its orbit. (Vernal equinox, on or about March 21.) Day and night are equal. It then tilts a little more towards Sun every day. Days are longer than nights, and getting longer. During its signs of Aries, Taurus, Gemini, day dominates and waxes.
On the first day of summer Earth's north pole reaches its maximum declination towards Sun. (Summer solstice, on or about June 21.) This is the longest day and shortest night. It then tilts a little farther away from Sun every day. Days are still longer than nights, but getting shorter. During its signs of Cancer, Leo, Virgo, day dominates but wanes.
On the first day of autumn Earth's north pole again stands perpendicular to its orbit. (Autumnal equinox, on or about September 21.) It then tilts a little farther away from Sun every day. Now nights are longer than days, and getting longer. During its signs of Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, night dominates and waxes.
On the first day of winter Earth's north pole reaches its maximum declination away from Sun. (Winter solstice, on or about December 21.) This is the longest night and shortest day. It then tilts a little more towards Sun every day. Nights are still longer than days, but getting shorter. During its signs of Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, night dominates but wanes.
Day symbolizes ego consciousness; night its unconscious instinctual and spiritual matrix. Day = individual realization. Night = collective expression. Day shines with the single star of self. Night twinkles with the many stars of society.
The alternating polarity of light and dark forms our most basic experience. It constellates the fundamental duality of existence: wake/sleep, life/death, objective/subjective, +/−. Each sign describes a relative emphasis of these yin/yang energies. And a vector of its dynamic: waxing or waning, developing or discharging.
During Earth's orbit around Sun it successively orients towards twelve energy zones portrayed by the signs. Just as each person passes through the same stages of womb-life, birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity and old age so each year unfolds along a consistently changing curve of light and dark through the zodiac.
This rhythmic cycle of day and night does not just go round and round in an endless circle. Rather it spirals forward as Sun moves northwards through interstellar space. Sun is heading towards a point 30° due north of the celestial equator at the winter solstice, near the star Vega, outside the zodiacal belt of constellations. (See 'Sun,' Figures 1-4.) Because Sun and the solar system as a whole are moving north, north represents future potential. South represents roots, origins, and causes. Northward movement portrays individualization. Southward movement portrays return to collective participation, sharing personal realization with the group from which one comes.
The spring signs of Sun's apparent movement northward (Aries, Taurus, Gemini) describe a season of Intuition, the development of yet unrealized potential. The summer signs, with Sun still north of the celestial equator but moving south (Cancer, Leo, Virgo) bring a season of Feeling, a return from the frontier with an enhanced personal reality, enriched with new dimensions of sensibility. The autumnal signs of Sun's southward motion (Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius) define a season of Thought, an immersion into relationship with others and an encounter with larger than personal concerns. The winter signs, with Sun still south of the celestial equator but moving north (Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces) portray a season of Sensation, an individualizing perspective on collective issues.
When Sun or any planet moves north from the vernal equinox (in Aries, Taurus, Gemini) it develops latent possibilities: an evolving individual function. Moving south from the summer solstice, but still north of the celestial equator (Cancer, Leo, Virgo), it demonstrates an established character: an expressive individual function. Moving south from the autumnal equinox (Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius), it engages with its collective matrix: an expressive social function. Moving north from the winter solstice, but still south of the celestial equator (Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces), it articulates collective aspiration: an evolving social function.
Any planet moving northward, from 1° Capricorn to 29° Gemini, acts like a waxing Moon: a growing function. One moving southward, from 1° Cancer to 29° Sagittarius, acts like a waning Moon: a releasing function. Any planet in signs north of the celestial equator evolves or expresses some aspect of individuality. Any planet in signs south of it expresses or evolves some aspect of collective participation.
Obviously this describes relative emphasis. A person with Sun in Taurus interacts socially, an Aquarian has personality. But these are not their main priorities. A sign indicates a certain orientation, a quality singled out for special attention.
The signs are fields of experience within a cycle of Quest and Return, individual development and social participation. This cycle generates an evolutionary spiral because it recurs along a trajectory in which the solar system as a whole moves towards a cosmic destiny near the star Vega. (See 'Sun,' Figures 1- 4.)
As Sun moves northwards its family of planets spirals around it. This generates a series of concentric helixes, resembling those of DNA molecules. (See diagram below) We can think of these helixes as a complex cosmic genome 'read' or expressed by Sun as it travels through space. (See 'Sun,' Figure 1.) Biological DNA codes for amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Sun's spiritual DNA codes for psychological functions, the components of personality. The four fundamental functions (intuition, feeling, thought, sensation) manifest through Earth's four seasons and the twelve signs composing them.
Each sign embodies a psychological function, described by its elemental nature. (See below.) An opposite and complementary sign on the other side of Earth's orbit balances it. This latent presence gives it a new dimension, frees it from the limitations of its own nature and integrates it into the larger process of the whole zodiac. Similarly, each function unconsciously polarizes with its counterpart: intuitive possibility with actual sensation, feeling with thought.6 Their interaction generates four basic temperaments: intuition/sensation, with intuition active/sensation recessive. Or vice versa. And: feeling/thought with feeling active/thought recessive. Or vice versa. Three such active functions experienced as temporal signs combine to generate a season.
In the same way physical DNA consists of four nucleic acids. Each of them couples with a 'silent partner' on the complementary strand of DNA's double helix: adenine (A) with thymine (T) and guanine (G) with cytosine (C). This generates four pairs: AT, TA, GC and CG. When activated, each nucleic acid breaks off from its partner on the DNA helix. It then combines with two other nucleic acids, in any order, to form a linear triplet: an amino acid. These amino acid triplets then link up to make proteins - just as three-signed seasons join together in years. This analogy between the astrological dynamic of the signs and the genetic activity of DNA reflects a universal organization that pervades every plane of being. The parallel between psychological and biological operating procedures reflects a single vital principle that animates every phase of becoming.
This cycle is embedded in the media of four elements or symbolic modes of experience:
Fire (intuition) represents will: spiritual quality, ego assertion, animal vitality. The fire signs are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius.
Air (thought) represents mind: perception, communication, knowledge, relationship. The air signs are Libra, Aquarius and Gemini.
Water (feeling) represents desire: emotion, memory, psychological depth. The water signs are Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces.
Earth (sensation) represents material reality: tangible structure and actual achievement. The earth signs are Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo.
Each element manifests through three phases of activity: cardinal, fixed or mutable.
Cardinal: creation, influx, beginning. The cardinal signs are: Aries - fire; Libra - air; Cancer - water; Capricorn - earth.
Fixed: existence, culmination, maturity. The fixed signs are: Leo - fire; Aquarius - air; Scorpio - water; Taurus - earth.
Mutable: change, transformation, ending. The mutable signs are: Sagittarius - fire; Gemini - air; Pisces - water; Virgo - earth.
Every degree of every sign contains all the qualities of all the signs. Just as every body cell contains the entire genetic program of an organism, but only expresses some aspects, while leaving others latent, so each sign emphasizes certain energies and lets others lie dormant. Signs of the same element accent similar potentials. Thus Leo and Sagittarius, both fire, have more in common than either has with Taurus (earth). That said, one often learns the most from those who are most different. These lessons are more difficult, but can be more rewarding because they evoke new dimensions of experience. At least as often they are simply lessons in frustration and hostility.
Signs display themselves as a belt of star patterns in space around Earth's equator. Sun and other planets appear to move through this zone from our perspective on Earth. Planets express a sign's force field through their particular function. For example: Mars = personal will. This can express Capricorn's practical ambition, Scorpio's passionate emotion or any of the other ten zodiacal energies. A planet in a sign focuses that sign's quality of consciousness through its activity. It may operate as an aspect of one's own personality, an inner condition. Or it may be encountered out in the world as an objective situation.
We experience the twelve signs through twelve houses, their subjective parallels in the human psyche. Houses are divisions of Earth's own rotation. (See 'Sun and Earth.') A house grounds a sign's cosmic energy into personal expression. For example, the sign of Aries on the cusp, or leading edge, of the ninth house (abstract mind) means that Aries' aggressive, pioneering nature informs one's philosophical/religious sensibilities in the spiritual domain, and one's political stance towards public affairs. The dreamy, mystical sign of Pisces on the cusp of the third house (concrete mind), suggests a poetic sensitivity infusing the perceptual, data processing intellect. Etc. Houses describe where and how one acts out sign energies. Signs motivate, houses manifest.
1. This is because it takes Earth 365¼ days to revolve around Sun, but Moon takes only 354⅓ days to make twelve orbits around Earth. The extra eleven days, almost one day per sign, symbolize a quotient of freedom within the clockwork of orbital cycles.
2. One day out of thirty equals about 3%. This seems almost insignificant. Yet a small quantity can leverage into a large impact. Only 3% of our human genome codes for all the proteins that build and run our bodies. (The other 97% is noncoding: a reservoir of genetic potential allowing new genes to emerge without disrupting vital coded functions.) By analogy almost all of our psychic functioning consists of automated physiology, hardwired instinct and unconscious perceptions and memories. The lit up area of conscious choice is small. Yet it defines who one is.
3. Gravity, electromagnetism, strong force (holding atomic nuclei together) and weak force (radioactive breakdown of atomic nuclei)
4. Adenine and its complement thymine, guanine and its complement cytosine. These four nucleic acids combine to generate all living matter.
5. Of course the same sequence reverses in Earth's southern hemisphere. The northern hemisphere is used by convention because astrology first developed there.
6. For the original, and classic, description of these functions see C. G. Jung 'Psychological Types.' Carl Jung (1875-1961), along with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), was a founding father of modern psychology.
Sun symbolizes one's core identity. Thus its sign position is by far the most important component of a chart. However, one can never say that s/he 'is' a Virgo or a Libra. One also learns about that basic purpose through the medium of a rising sign (ascendant) portraying self-consciousness and expression. And feels it through Moon's emotional sign.
Every human personality embodies an ineffable mystery. S/he can never be reduced to a single symbol or psychological equation. That said, such an equation, delineated as a birth chart, provides insight into the dynamics of consciousness and motivations of behavior. The signs provide a context within which planetary functions operate. Sun in a sign portrays a spiritual orientation to life. Moon and planets flesh that out with psychological attributes. Planets in signs actually manifest the general solar purpose.
In the remainder of this chapter signs are presented as a continuum of archetypal energy patterns more than as discrete personality types. This locates individual identity in the larger scheme of things. 'Moon in Signs' describes their psychological expression.
Signs act as phases of an annual cycle. Sun in a sign activates that developmental stage as ego's central organizing principle. It then expresses on whatever evolutionary level one has achieved.
Wheel of Signs